mother with son

Can a Child Choose a Custodial Parent in Missouri?

Determining child custody is often the most contentious and emotionally charged aspect of a settling a divorce. A common question that arises during this time is whether the child can choose which parent he/she would like to reside with most of the time. For many parents this may not be an option as no parent want to feel rejected by his/her own child. However, at a certain age, it would be fair to consider the child’s interests. The child has a right to choose which parent to spend majority of his/her time with considering this parent will have an impact on their development. Today, we review when a child can choose a custodial parent.

Missouri Laws Regarding the Custodial Parent

Missouri courts consider 8 different factors when determining custody, one of which is the wishes of the child as to who the child’s custodian will be. As with many states, Missouri law does not specify an age when the court must consider children’s custody preferences. Therefore, the courts must consider the child’s preferences in such matters if the child mature enough to have a preference. It is important to remember that this is just one factor the court will take into consideration. Therefore, sometimes the child’s preferences may or may not have an impact on a child custody determination.

When considering the child’s preferences, the parents should ensure that this preference is considered in the best interests of the child as well. To build a case, the court will consider testimonies from relatives, teachers, and childcare providers, as well as experts such as psychologist and psychiatrist to assess the child and his/her parents. Ultimately, the courts want to see a child in a healthy environment.

The court may also examine the parenting styles of each parent to determine why the child expressed a particular preference. If the parenting style contributes to an unstable environment, even if the child chose this parent, the court would choose to put the child with the parent that can provide the more stable environment.

How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Decide Which Parent to Live With?

According to Missouri statutes, a child cannot decide which parent he/she wants to live with until he/she reaches the age of 18. It is important for the judge to determine the reasons behind why the child has expressed an interest to live with one parent and not the other.

As a judge takes 7 other custody factors into consideration as well as the best interests of the child, a child’s wishes are not the only factor that will be included in a custody determination.

Does a Child Have to Testify in Court About Their Custodial Preferences?

The court may interview the child to learn more about his/her preferences and the reasons why he/she is interested in living with one parent and not the other. Courts typically do not have a child testify in court as it could be overwhelming for them. A courtroom is not the best place for a child and could have a negative effect on his/her wellbeing.

Can a Judge Determine a Child’s Custodial Preference?

A judge may choose a child’s custodial parent without speaking to the child if the circumstances prove appropriate. For example, a mental healthcare professional could interview the child and testify their preferences. In the event of a child abuse allegation, the court might also appoint someone known as guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests in the custody proceedings.

Can a Child Refuse Visitation in Missouri?

It is not uncommon for custodial parents to have difficulties getting their children to visit the non-custodial parent, especially if the relationship is broken. Unless the judge sees good reason for the child not to visit, the custodial parent must follow court orders. If they do not, then there could be harsh penalties including fines, extra time awarded to the non-custodial parent, and sometimes transfer of custody. This leaves the custodial parent with full responsibility of convincing their child(ren) to visit. If the child does not visit due to justifiable reasons, such as abuse or neglect, then the custodial parent must bring this to the court's attention immediately.

Reach Out to Our Family Law Team to Secure an Initial Consultation

If you have questions or concerns regarding your child custody agreement, do not hesitate to reach out to our office. Our experienced attorneys have over four decades of combined legal experience, offering quality counsel to families in need. Located in Chesterfield, our attorneys serve clients in West St. Louis County, St. Charles, and surrounding areas.

To learn more about our family law services, contact us online or give our office a call at (314) 441-7793.